Monday, February 6, 2023

Facebook Negative Testing

Kathianne Boniello (via Jamie Zawinski):

Facebook can secretly drain its users’ cellphone batteries, a former employee contends in a lawsuit.

The practice, known as “negative testing,” allows tech companies to “surreptitiously” run down someone’s mobile juice in the name of testing features or issues such as how fast their app runs or how an image might load, according to data scientist George Hayward.

He refused to do that and was fired.

Cory Doctorow:

Hayward balked because he knew that among the 1.3 billion people who use Messenger, some would be placed in harm’s way if Facebook deliberately drained their batteries – physically stranded, unable to communicate with loved ones experiencing emergencies, or locked out of their identification, payment method, and all the other functions filled by mobile phones.


We don’t know much else, because Hayward’s employment contract included a non-negotiable binding arbitration waiver, which means that he surrendered his right to seek legal redress from his former employer.

Update (2023-02-14): Tracy Lopez:

Testing within an app is aimed at improving it, but this was not the case with Facebook apps, both on iOS and Android: the company it slowed down the loading of the images, the connections to the pages of the links and even made the application consume more battery.


Meta carried out negative tests for draw a relationship between app performance and app experience.

This seems to be clearly in violation of App Store guideline 2.4.2. Though, according to the NTIA, Apple claims it “reviews each line of an app’s code,” we know they don’t do that in any real sense and likely didn’t realize Facebook was doing this.

8 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Beatrix Willius

How does Facebook collect data from such a test? Wouldn't I want to run such a test in a controlled manner with just a couple of phones?

The arbitration waiver doesn't really sound legal. If the company does something illegal then it's illegal.

The Doctorow post is just mumbling.

Yeah, I'm very confused by what exactly is going on here. Are they trying to test what happens when the phone runs out of battery?

@Plume: I assume that they're having the app send back even more user tracking data. For instance, continuous location data.

@Beatrix Willius: the app phones home. It's in contact with Facebook servers all the time that the app is in use, of course. It sounds like this modification is about keeping the app awake when not in use so they can collect even more data.

My understanding is that it's for testing performance in the "real world" on actual user devices, running a variety of scenarios and measuring various variables. The battery draining is a side effect of that, not the purpose. Ironically, some of that testing might be aimed at reducing the battery usage of the app.

This is not very different from bitcoin-mining malware, using people's battery/electricity for someone else's benefit.

A related case that comes to mind is how Apple did test conversions/rollbacks of everyone’s phone to APFS during updates prior to APFS being introduced. In other words, the update took a lot longer (and used more power) and provided no benefit to the user but generated useful info to report back to Apple.

I find it surprising they fired him for this, rather than reconsidering or asking someone else to do it... If anything, they should have known this would be bad publicity.

Stunts like his one reinforce my decision to remove all Meta apps from my mobile devices a couple of years ago. I'm not as anti-FB as many other tech folks are, but I've enjoyed my computing experience considerably more since then.

I only visit FB now from my desktop, and I only access Instagram from an old iPad I use specifically for running apps that I feel like I should keep up with but not include in my daily environment. I don't use the Messenger app at all. (I've also been removing old apps and disabling nearly all app notifications. It's amazing how one can slide down a slippery slope of continually adding "features" to one's environment until the environment becomes a source of misery.)

Leave a Comment